Let Your Light Shine! Celebrating Multicultural Holidays

Photo by Keli Garcia Allen

Photo by Keli Garcia Allen

I grew up celebrating Christmas and Navidad. Sure, you may think that they are the same thing, and in general we are celebrating the same thing, but the way two different cultures celebrate the same holiday can vary and can be very different. But, I grew up welcoming El Espiritu de La Navidad and writing letters to El Niño Jesus who would deliver our presents along with Santa on Christmas morning.

We spent the season eating hallacas and pan de jamón , putting on plays about Santa Clause, and looking for reindeer in the sky. We sang “El Niño Criollo” and  “Mi Burrito Sabanero” along with “Rudolf the Red Nosed Rainder” and “Silent Night.” We would have all of our family together celebrating the 24th until the wee hours of the morning and my poor parents would then be woken up by us early on the 25th to open the presents sent from y grandmother and the ones brought by Santa Claus and El Niño Jesus.

Somehow, it just worked. And we sure enjoyed it! Now that we live in the U.S., our celebrations have expanded even more. In my house, we celebrate Christmas, Navidad and Hanukkah. It is both for spiritual reasons and discovering our heritage that we do, in fact, celebrate all of the Christian and Jewish feasts and holidays.

I started thinking about this topic a little when I read a wonderful article in the Guardian that talked about a Muslim couple who opened up their hearts and home to 3 Christian children right before Christmas in England. The evening the children came, these two people bought a Christmas tree and stayed up all night to wrap up the presents and decorate for these children who needed all the love they could get. The family grew together to experience each other’s cultures and ways in a truly moving story. (Read it Here)  

And as unusual as that may seem, I look around and find that in so many of our homes the marrying of cultures and faiths is done in beautiful and fulfilling fashion. Living WITH each other is happening all around us.

Photo by Pratham Gupta on Unsplash

Photo by Pratham Gupta on Unsplash

One of my favorite examples comes from my friends Sunny and Kayla who have great mish-mash of holiday traditions. Sunny’s family celebrates Diwali, which is the Hindu festival of lights. It is celebrated in the month of Kartika, which falls around October or December every year.  They put up the lights in celebration and leave them up into the Christmas season!

Now, they live in London and according to Kayla, have adapted some holiday traditions from the English, which she thinks are pretty fun. “Mince pies, mulled wine, Christmas crackers (traditionally served at the Christmas meal, it's popped open to reveal a crown, toy and joke inside) and their love of ugly Christmas jumpers. We give the Christmas pudding a miss though, bad stuff. We also get a bonus holiday for Boxing Day!”

Photo Curtesy of Megan Wallace Widrich

Photo Curtesy of Megan Wallace Widrich

Another great example of the coming together of two cultures is that of my friend Megan and her new husband Jason. They have come together and celebrate “Chrismaka” in a lovely way with the whole family. The marrying of two traditions (and the marriage of them) is beautifully celebrated in their holiday décor!

Photo by Kaboompics // Karolina from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/lunch-table-salad-5876/

Photo by Kaboompics // Karolina from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/lunch-table-salad-5876/

It has become a yearly ritual for my friend Sofija to host her Christmahanukwanza party. And just like it sounds, it’s a party to celebrate all three of those holidays. But it is so much more than that! Sofija already grew up celebrating Catholic Christmas (on December 25th) and Orthodox Christmas (on January 7th), but has always had friends from many different backgrounds and that is something she wanted to celebrate!

At her party, people from all kinds of different backgrounds and views come together to celebrate, share and enjoy each other’s company. It's a really fun time and let me say, the spread is amazing! Cevapi and rolls made by her family sit alongside lumpias made by her mother in law, along with curries, arepas (yup, that’s the Venezuelan in me), quail eggs, roasts, hams, vegetarian dishes, and so much more. There is a little piece of each one of us there to share with all of our friends who have become more like family.

So, as you look around this holiday season, just think to let your light shine. You can hold on and be true to your beliefs and ways of life, while still reaching across to those who are different and enjoying beautiful celebrations of life and love.

And to paraphrase my friend Cyrus; Happy Diwali, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza, Feliz Navidad, Happy Three Kings Day, Happy New Year, Happy Omisoka…if you’re into any of that! 

What about you? Do you have any stories of multicultural holidays to share with us? We would love to read them!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Keli Garcia Allen is a certified Spanish teacher and currently works as a Preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom. She is the Head of Content for Learn Safari and is currently working on English SafariSpanish Safari and Reading Safari  a game for children 4-10 years old who speak Spanish and want to learn English. You can follow her and the rest of the team on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter. 

Turkey, Gator Tail and Arepas: A Real Thanksgiving Feast

Photo by Jessica Bristow on Unsplash

Keli:

Thanksgiving is one of our most important holidays. Families all over the country come together to celebrate, give thanks, eat and more than likely watch football. People of all kinds of races, religions and ethnic backgrounds participate. Even first generation immigrants get behind this most (North) American tradition. The history of thanksgiving can get a little murky and even a little ugly, but the truth about thanksgiving is much more than simply turkey and pumpkin pie.

The Popular History of Thanksgiving

Most of us know the traditional story behind thanksgiving in the U.S. It was 1620 and Pilgrim settlers in Plymouth Rock shared a feast of thankfulness with the natives who had helped them survive a very bitter winter. In 1795, George Washington declared the first official Thanksgiving to be held on February 19th. Abraham Lincoln moved it to October 3 and finally, in 1941 Theodore Roosevelt moved it to the fourth Thursday in November.

Now, this history was always nice and dandy to me. I did understand the deeper implications and history of the treatment of Native Americans in this nation (but that is a whole other topic that requires serious thought). It wasn’t until I was in college, however, that I even questioned this notion of a very protestant and English-centric thanksgiving.

 

A Florida Thanksgiving

My first professor at the University of Florida was Michael Ganon, AKA “The Grinch who stole thanksgiving.” He received that nickname in 1985, when he told a newspaper reporter who was looking for a new angle on thanksgiving that “by the time the settlers in Plymouth sat down for their first thanksgiving feast, St. Augustine was up for urban renewal.”

In his book The Cross in the Sand Professor Gannon describes the Thanksgiving feast that took place on Sept. 8, 1565. A full 55 years earlier!   At the time, Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles came ashore on to St. Augustine and held the first mass of thanksgiving, which was followed by a feast in which 800 Catholic colonists and the Timucua (the natives living in Florida at the time) attended together.

The feast probably consisted of a cocido which was a stew made of garbanzos and salted pork, along with wine and bread from the ships. The Timucua would have contributed grains, corn, beans, squash, pumpkin, local game, fish, and even a gator or two!

Since I live only 45 minutes away from St. Augustine, this history of thanksgiving is one I absolutely love! But, come to find out, there was an even earlier feast held even closer to Jacksonville, atop the St. Johns Bluff in Fort Caroline. It was held on June 30th, 1564 when Rene Goulane de Laudonniére called for a feast of thanksgiving to be held. French colonists and members of the Timucua tribe both joined in.  

But, this had me thinking.  Surely there were even earlier arrivals and prayers and celebrations of thanksgiving held all over the Americas during this period of time. Given that the European settlers would have arrived with very little in the way of provisions, they had to rely on the goodwill of the natives, along with their food.

Some of these include Juan ponce de Leon’s arrival in 1513 and the settlement of Cumaná 1515. It was one of the first establishments in Venezuela and it was formed due to a group of Franciscan friars who wanted to evangelize the natives without the violence or intervention of soldiers and traders.

So, given the multicultural history of Thanksgiving, I see that it’s only fit to continue this approach in our celebration of this holiday. And this year, I don’t have to do it alone! Instead, I have the help of someone who has a lifetime of experience with a multicultural approach to thanksgiving. 

Thankful Turkey Hands. They got to tell us everything they were thankful for!

Thankful Turkey Hands. They got to tell us everything they were thankful for!

 

Thanksgiving When Cultures Meet

Becky:

In a blog post I wrote last year I describe how my bicultural family celebrated Thanksgiving in Venezuela> I talked about how back in the day, before the advent of boxed, frozen and pre-made meals, my grandmother had to adapt her recipes to what was fresh and available at the time and how the menu became richer and more diverse as the family grew.

This year I am very thankful for many things, including the arrival of two beautiful babies who are only 1 week apart. This year I get to share the wonderful dishes that I grew up with, and my own children have the opportunity to share this holiday with new (to them) family and friends.

 

A Family Affair

Family is where the heart is and right now my heart is in Florida.  where I get to celebrate Thanksgiving “the American Way”, but as you may infer ”truly American Thanksgiving” is a very fluid concept. So we decided to own it and share our cultural heritage and show off our culinary skills preparing a feast fit for a king.

We’ll be enjoying the company of parents, siblings, cousins, spouses, many (many) children and our dear friends. We all have different backgrounds, upbringings and Thanksgiving traditions. And this year, I’m in charge! I will try to take into account a whole bunch of taste buds, customs and traditions, including my own, and I will prepare a feast fit for a king! But first, I need a plan.  

 

Thanks to Lena Hernandez for sharing this photo (and cute activity) with us! We will be working on these all week with the kiddos!

Thanks to Lena Hernandez for sharing this photo (and cute activity) with us! We will be working on these all week with the kiddos!

 

Nourishment for Body and Soul

As for the menu itself, we want to please as many guests as we can, but some compromise has to be made. As for the soul part, the camaraderie, sharing our favorite dishes and helping each other out will do us a lot of good. 

We agreed on Turkey with cornbread stuffing, as this is a dish that takes us back to our grandma’s kitchen back in Maracaibo, when our moms and our tias helped Abuela Nena with the Christmas turkey (our Venezuelan part of the family does not celebrate Thanksgiving). We’ll also bring the taste of home to this holiday with quesillo, tequeños, arepitas mango juice and some ponche de crema.  

The rest of the menu will be easily recognizable as it will include pecan pie, sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes and even some dairy free options (we even have some of those in the house y’all!).

Becky gathering pinecones for our crafts! 

Becky gathering pinecones for our crafts! 

 

A Learning Experience (Mainly for us Mommas)

A Thanksgiving feast takes planning, preparation and execution, but with 5 kids it gets a bit more challenging than that.  The first thing is making lists; one for the menu, one for the ingredients to prepare the menu, one for household items, one for activities, and so on. We must have written 10 lists and it’s not turkey time yet!

The lists are super important because we’re outnumbered by our children, and where we go, they go.  Period. So forgetting something from the list (like lemonade for one of the girls) could turn into a tragedy. But we got this! We’re teachers, we’re moms, we can handle almost anything.

We went to the first store to get dry goods and other essentials, like hair ties and pumpkin spice coffee creamer (like I said, essentials!). This little run turned into a 2-hour adventure, but we got most of the items on the list, no children were lost, and no permanent damage was reported. We should go to the next store in 2 days, after we recover.

So far we have learned how to go potty in tandem, to make lists and stick to them, to be patient, to watch out for each other and to help each other around the house. The girls have been amazing picking out the right items, entertaining the babies and helping with the cooking and cleaning.

In the days prior we will be baking cookies, pies and cakes; brining the turkey, and preparing some adorable crafts to keep the kiddos entertained. We have been talking about the history of thanksgiving, reading some great stories and discussing what it is to be thankful. We are talking about our culture, learning to appreciate other cultures and traditions and counting our blessings.

We know it’s going to be a long day, but spending the day sharing our heritage in the form of food with our loved ones is great thing to be thankful for.

To find out how our Thanksgiving feast went check out our Instagram and Facebook posts and if you happen to have a gator tail recipe you’d like to share, please drop us a line, because we’re dying to try it out! (Well, Keli says she’d just like to buy it, because she’s not cooking that!).

What about you? Would you share your thanksgiving traditions with us? We’d love to hear from you in the comments! 

 

About the Authors

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Keli Garcia Allen is a certified Spanish teacher and currently works as a Preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom. She is the Head of Content for Learn Safari and is currently working on English Safari, Spanish Safari and Reading Safari  a game for children 4-10 years old who speak Spanish and want to learn English. You can follow her and the rest of the team on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter

 

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Becky Garcia-Muir is a Southern belle from way South, a Bilingual teacher and mom, and Community Manager for Learn Safari.

Learning Spanish, Even in the Midst of Chaos

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2 cousins, 2 pregnant bellies, 3 children and a whole lot of fun (or is disaster the word I am looking for?) Sounds like the makings of a silly joke, right? Well, no joke! It has been our lives for the past 4 months and it has turned out to be a wonderful experiment in co-parenting, co-working, learning English and learning Spanish. 

 

Becky, Learn Safari’s Community Manager, and I happen to be cousins. When I say cousins, I mean that we’re almost like sisters (primas hermanas is what we call it in Spanish). We grew up together, playing and visiting each other regularly, staying at each other’s houses and even after I moved away, we have remained very close.

 

When the Learn Safari project began, I was excited to be working with a great team of programmers and designers, many whom were also Venezuelan like myself. When the need for a Community Manager came up, I was super excited to get Becky on board! (Yay! Nepotism hahah…no seriously, she has the skills, passion and dedication for this!)

 

So, when the opportunity came for Becky to come visit me for an extended period in order to work together on Learn Safari, we were both super excited for the opportunity! But we were also daunted by the facts: We would be two very pregnant women at home with 3 busy, busy girls, two husbands that were often away at work, and two different language learning goals.  

 

Starting the Experiment and Entering into Chaos and Confusion

 

Coming together those first few days was really exciting and fun! The best part, however, was seeing our little girls interacting with each other, much in the same way that we had when we were young. Now, I have been raising my girls bilingually with English as the community language and Spanish as the target language. She, on the other hand, has been raising her daughter with Spanish as the community language and English as the target language. So, my goal was for my daughters to learn more Spanish and Becky's goal was for her daughter to learn more English. 

 

What you heard was a serious mish-mash of languages! Becky speaking English to her child as I spoke Spanish to mine. Her child speaking mostly in Spanish and throwing in some words in English, while my kids speaking in English, but throwing around some Spanish. And then Becky and I trying to reverse languages with each other’s children! AGHHH! It was crazy!

 

At this point I was thinking, if there ever were a chance for confusing the kiddos with language, this recipe would sure be it! I couldn’t even keep it straight in my head! What language was I supposed to speak with whom? At some points I would be speaking full-blown, full-speed Spanish with my husband (who only speaks a little) and getting really flustered when he looked at me like I was crazy! How would my kiddos learn Spanish more if I didn't even know what language I was speaking?

 

Even through the chaos, however, I watched the girls blossom! It was amazing to see that even though I was not being fully interactive with my children (I don’t do pregnancy well! In fact, it’s my own version of torture) and I was spending so much time just trying to breathe instead of speaking (Little Cami Cakes was squeezing the air out of my lungs something fierce), my girls were learning Spanish more and more! Even after some regression in the language due to my lack of interaction during a lot of my pregnancy, I hadn't permanently damaged my kids and their ability to become bilingual! (Even as I write this, I'm patting myself on the back!)

In fact, my four-year-old daughter started having full blown conversations with me in Spanish and then she would proudly claim “Mami, I am talking in Español!” And Becky’s 4 year old, Twinkle Toes as she lovingly calls her, is now learning English at an exponential rate and for the first time she responds to her mom in full sentences in the target language and is even learning her letters and letter sounds in English as she gains all of her pre-reading skills.

 

Reinforcing The Outcomes

 

The experiment in co-parenting (It’s the reality of what we are doing, even if it’s for a short while) has really shown us how much children can learn from each other. It has also shown us that even in the midst of chaos, kids will thrive and learn as long as they are surrounded by love, attention and care. But to take full advantage of it, we are adding a few target activities to our days.

 

Apps for Learning Language

 

The girls sure love their tablets! In fact, we have to closely monitor their use so that they have a limited amount of time on them and the time they spend on them is with high-quality apps. Since Spanish is the target language for my girls, they get to spend a 20-minute session on Spanish Safari each day. And little Twinkle Toes gets 20 minutes of English Safari.

 

Preschool Attendance

The girls and I go to preschool every morning. I teach the older two girls in the VPK class. All of the classrooms, however, are bilingual classrooms and they learn Spanish and English with plenty of exposure to both languages.  Most of their social interactions are in English (I think that has to do with my eldest’s strong personality, she tends to set the tone…more on that on a different post!). The circle time activities are in English on Mondays, Tuesday and Fridays and they are in Spanish on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Their table time and one on one sessions are done according to their target language.

 

Learning English With Chores Around The Home

We try to get the girls to clean up after themselves and help around the house. Honestly, wrangling the girls into these activities happens in a mish-mash of languages as we will try ANYTHING to get them to help! However, one activity they always happily participate in is cooking with their Tia (or mommy) Becky. She’s an excellent cook and we sure have been eating well! But the girls love to help her and they learn so much language (English) in the process.

 

Reading in English and in Spanish

I may sound like a broken record, if you have read any of my posts before. But I am a huge advocate for reading and literacy! There is no better way to ensure academic (and life!) success for your kids. We read every day and alternate books in English and Spanish. I like to ask them a lot of open-ended questions about what they read it’s really fun to see them even act out the stories we read during their playtime!

 

T.V. Exposure

So, I would love to say that we don’t watch T.V. Heck, we don’t even have them in our home! That’s a lie!! We are a bit of a T.V. family, but as we are trying to consciously raise our children, we want to limit how much they watch. So, no more than 2 hours a day and we have successfully had a lot of days in which we don’t ever turn it on! But when we do, I try for the settings to be in Spanish so they can get some additional language exposure that way.

 

Learning Spanish with Music and Movement

Kids love music and dancing! And luckily, so do we. In fact, that’s how my husband and I met! We were both salsa instructors at the same dance studio. But, we just love music! And often we listen to music and sing and dance together.  So, our kids learn Spanish and learn a lot about our culture culture through music and dancing, especially with their daddy (Or as Twinkle Toes calls him, Tio Brandon)!  

 

It’s been a roller coaster ride! We have had struggles and many victories. Our house is messy, but our home is happy. We’ve seen such growth in our daughters, we have seem them learn Spanish and English more, and we have gotten to give them time to grow up with their primas, just like we did! Now, we have added two more littles to the family and as the time nears for when our cousins will no longer be with us, I simply think about how much I am going to miss them and this wonderful experience!

 

What about you? Do you have any stories of when your children were learning in spite of a challenging situation? Share your story with us in the comments!

 

About the Author

Keli Garcia Allen is a certified Spanish teacher and currently works as a Preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom. She is the Head of Content for Learn Safari and is currently working on Reading Safari,  a game to help children learn to read in English.  You can follow her and the rest of the team on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Keli Garcia Allen is a certified Spanish teacher and currently works as a Preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom. She is the Head of Content for Learn Safari and is currently working on Reading Safari,  a game to help children learn to read in English.  You can follow her and the rest of the team on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

 


 

Not a Native Speaker? You Can Still Raise Your Child To Be Bilingual!

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As a parent, Head of Content for Learn Safari and a teacher, I’m often on the lookout for methods and teaching and ideas that will really spark learning for kids.  I am often thinking about how to raise my two (almost 3!) sprouting little bilinguals how I can effectively share my native language and Venezuelan heritage. I know, however, that having been raised bilingually myself and knowing my two languages to native proficiency, I am at a HUGE advantage when it comes to teaching my kids. But, what about parents who may want to teach their children a language that they are not a native speaker of, or moreover, a language they may not even know that well at all? 

I see this issue being brought up often. Parents concerned that they don't know the target language well enough. To my surprise, they are often discouraged from even trying! They are told they won't be able to do it, or that their language skills (or lack there of) will confuse their children, etc. Well, I'm here to tell you differently! Parents, you can teach your children a second (or third) language even if it’s not your native language. Actually, you can introduce a second language to your child even if you don’t speak the language at all! It’s not magical and super easy.  in fact, it takes hard work and dedication. But it can really happen and here I will give you a few pointers as to how.

 

Lose your Fear

Fear is often what holds us back when it comes to speaking a second language. It will also hold us back from teaching our children another language. You may often feel like you’re not good enough to teach your child or that your grammar or accent is too strong and that you will just confused them. Well, children are not so easily confused!! Even if you’re not perfect when speaking the target language, you will not hurt your child when you try! If anything, you will teach them to not be fearful and that it’s ok to make mistakes, as long as you keep learning, growing and trying. If you are worried that they will copy your mistakes or "bad habits" the best thing to do is to expose them to many authentic sources in the target language. 

  

Ditch the concept of OPOL or MLAH

One Parent One Language (OPOL) and Minority Language at Home (MLAH) are two extremely popular concepts for raising bilingual children. The first means that each parent is in charge of speaking to the child exclusively in one language, usually their native language. The other involves everyone speaking the minority or target language within the family and letting the majority or community language be taught to the child outside of the home (To learn more about these concepts, click here).

Both of these concepts are great ways of raising bilingual children and they can be extremely effective. However, they are not the end all and be all of language instruction. If they work for your family, it’s awesome! But not all families are set up to learn languages this way and not using one of these methods will not confuse or put your child at a disadvantage! The important thing is that your child has enough quality exposure to language and there are many ways to do that.

 

Make Time for Your Target Language

If the target language you are teaching your child is not your native language, or if you do not know it much at all, it can be a truly daunting task to use the language with them. Your love language will be your native language and when you share your sweetest and most intimate moments with your child you may want to use your native language. And that’s ok!

However, it’s important that you spend quality and quantity of time in the target language. You want to go for at least 25 to 30 hours a week! It’s a good idea to maybe pick a time and a place that you schedule to practice your target language. Use the time to speak with your child in the target language and use all of ideas below to give your child sufficient exposure so that they can be successful little bilinguals.

 

Find a Language Teacher

One of the best and easiest ways to teach your child a second language that is not your own is to find a language teacher. Depending on your area, you may have language schools that offer your target language. You can also look on websites such as Craig’s list or local tutoring sites. You can even find an online teacher and have skype sessions! This can be effective for your child and for you as well if you want to learn alongside your kids!

 

Use Apps

You can find good quality apps that help to teach and reinforce the target language for your child. They are a small investment that can be extremely beneficial as long as you find a good quality app that will entertain and teach your child. Apps are great entertainment and a few minutes a day on a quality language app can really get your child into practicing language skills. For tips on how to find quality apps, check out our blog post. 

 

Use Videos, Audio books, and Youtube

We live in the age of technology. Take advantage of it! Videos, audio books and Youtube videos in the target language can give authentic exposure to the target language for your child. This is especially useful if you feel like your accent isn’t great because it’s not your native language or if you want them to have more than just one source of language.

 

Read Books

I can’t stress the importance of reading enough! It’s the best way to learn vocabulary, grammar and sentence structure. Reading aloud to your child in the target language will not only help your child learn, but it will help you learn and practice right along with your child. It will also give you topics to talk about and it’s a great way to bond together.

 

Make Friends in The Target Language

Language is about communication and connection. The best way to practice language is to communicate with others. Finding a community of people who speak the target language will be your best asset when raising bilingual children. Look for a play group or try to make friends that speak your target language and set up play dates and events where you and your child can share with people. The more opportunities you create to hear and participate in the target language, the better your outcomes will be.

Remember, language is fluid and most people can’t have a steady plan that they ALWAYS follow and that ALWAYS works. And kids don't get confused by that!!! Just don’t give up! Establish times when you use your target language, listen to music, audio books, read stories, have conversations and connect with others. You can practice and learn more together! If you are purposeful you will give your child the gift of being bilingual, you will learn right along with him or her, and you will have a beautiful and deep connection in several languages. 

Are you a parent who has been teaching their children a language that is not your native language? We'd love to hear from our experiences! Share in the comments below. 

About The Author


Keli Garcia Allen is a certified Spanish teacher and currently works as a Preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom. She is the Head of Content for Learn Safari and is currently working on English Safari,  a game for children 4-10 years old who speak Spanish and want to learn English. It's not available in the App Store and in the Google Play Store! You can follow her and the rest of the team on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

5 Things That Will NOT Happen Because You Raise a Bilingual Child

Photo by: Katrise Armour Kalougin

Photo by: Katrise Armour Kalougin

So you’re raising a bilingual child? Aren’t you worried that you’re just going to confused him or delay language development? Why don’t you wait until his first language is established before you try to teach a second or third language?

 

I’ve heard it all before and I am sure you have too. Whenever you are raising your child to speak more than one language there are a lot of myths, opinions and questions out there about whether you are doing what’s right for your child or not. It’s hard to get skeptics on board (if you’d like to learn a few tips on how to do so, check out our blog post) and you may just feel like you don’t even have the time to deal with those skeptics! But the reality is that these questions and myths may be weighing on your mind. But I’m here to share with you a few things that simply won’t happen just because you are raising your child(ren) to speak more than one language.

 

Bilingualism Will Not Cause Your Child To Be Confused

 

This seems to be one of the top concerns of parents wanting to raise a multilingual child. It’s one of the most common posting topics on parenting boards and groups all across the internet. Questions like “will I confuse my child if I try to teach them 3 languages?” “Will I confuse my child if I don’t stick to OPOL?” “Will my child be confused if I switch from one language to another?” “Will it confuse my child if I’m not a native speaker of the target language?” “Will it confuse my child if I have an accent?” Well, the short answer to all of these questions is simply NO.

 

Rest assured, young children are hardwired to learn language. In fact, at birth, an infant can already distinguish between languages and even shows preference for mom’s language. Even if you find that your child uses mixed sentences and vocabulary from different languages, it doesn’t mean they are confused. As they get older, they will sort the languages into the correct boxes. By the time my oldest was three, she could tell you “orange is how you say it in English and Anaranjado is how you say it in Español.” And she’s not the only one! As a preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom, I can tell you that every bilingual child can do this and will flip from one language to the other with no confusion.

 

Now, this is not to take away from the benefits of using one parent one language, minority language at home or any other method you have for teaching languages. They serve to organize ourselves as adults and give us a method of ensuring enough language exposure in each language that our child is learning. But the point is, no matter what method you choose, or whether you stick to the method 100% of the time or not, your child will not be confused!

 

Bilingualism Will Not Cause Your Child To Have Language Delays

 

This myth is very popular among skeptics and parents alike. The concern that speaking more than one language will cause your child to take longer to speak or will cause your child to have difficulties with speech is very common. Some parents choose to forgo teaching a second language until the child’s first language is “developed” because of this. And there are some parents who choose to continue raising multilingual children in spite of this fear, but figure eventually the child will sort it all out. The reality is that being multilingual does not cause speech delays.

 

It’s important to remember that children all develop at different rates and the range of normal speech development is very wide. Bilingual and multilingual children who experience speech delays would have experienced the delay even if they had only been raised in one language. You can see this happening within single families, where a child may develop a speech delay and another child will not.

 

There is concern, however, that parents may ignore a child’s speech delay because they assume it’s just confusion or delay caused by speaking more than one language and that eventually they will sort it out. I have seen this happen with parents and with the school system as well. A child’s language difficulties or delay are attributed to the home language or to their second language and the fact that there is a real problem is overlooked. Remember, early intervention can make a world of different in a child’s speech and development and can save them a lot of future difficulties and heartache. So, if you are concerned, don’t delay getting help from your doctor, teacher, or speech therapist. It’s better to tackle the problem early on and even discover that there is no problem than let it slide and create more difficulties for your child later on.

 

Bilingualism Will Not Cause Your Child To Be a Slower Reader

 

Just like language delays, there is absolutely no evidence that speaking more than one language will cause your child difficulties in learning to read. In fact, many children successfully learn to read in multiple languages all at the same time. It really is up to you and your child whether you want them to read in one language at a time or in several languages simultaneously.

 

A child’s reading success does not depend on whether they are bilingual or not, but it does depend on several other factors that you can start influencing from the time of their conception! The number one thing is how much you read to your child! In fact, Reading aloud is the “the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading."  It’s also the greatest predictor of future achievement for children. Read to your child every day in each language in order to ensure they will be successful readers and in order to further develop their language and your relationship. 

 

Bilingualism Will Not Hurt Your Child’s I.Q Level

 

In the past, researchers, teachers, doctors and the general populace believed that bilingualism negatively affected the cognitive abilities of people. For generations, in the U.S. it was expected for people to adapt and assimilate to the customs and language of the land and people were encouraged to leave their traditional languages behind. Current research, however, shows that bilingualism actually has many cognitive as well as social advantages.

 

Being bilingual affects the executive functions of the brain, meaning it enhances the ability to select or ignore information. Bilingual individuals demonstrate greater flexibility in thinking, perform better on standardized tests, are better at planning and decision making, switching between tasks, understanding others and listening. They also have better memories, impulse control, they are more creative and are better able to focus.

 

Bilingualism Will Not Cause Your Child to Become Isolated From The Majority Culture

 

Our desire to fit in and for our children to fit in can make us worry about whether teaching our children a different language will keep them from making friends or integrating into society. Especially when we look at our past, we may feel like we were too “different” and we may not want that for our children. In our globalizing world, however, the concept of being bilingual and bicultural is so much more common! By teaching our children not only about language, but also about culture, we are helping them embrace many facets of who they are and we are encouraging them to accept others and be more tolerant of differences.  As long as you focus on being bicultural, as well as being bilingual, you are not going to be isolating your child. In fact, you will be opening up more doors for him or her!

 

As parents, we are all trying to do the best for our kids.  We have so many questions and doubts about whether we are doing the right thing or not, but don’t let any of the above myths become a concern in your world. There’s plenty other things to worry about!

If you would like to learn more about the research that has been done on bilingualism and multilingualism, please check out the links below:

Bartolotti, J., & Marian, V. (2012). Language learning and control in monolinguals and bilinguals. Cognitive Science, 36, 1129–1147. [pdf]

Döpke, Susanne (2006). Understanding Bilingualism and Language Disorder. 

Kaushanskaya, M., Yoo, J., & Marian, V. (2011). The effect of second-language experience on native-language processing. Vigo International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 8, 54-77. [pdf]

Marian, V., Faroqi-Shah, Y., Kaushanskaya, M., Blumenfeld, H., & Sheng, L. (2009). Bilingualism: Consequences for language, cognition, development, and the brain. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Leader, 14, 10-13. [pdf]

Marian, V., Shook, A., & Schroeder, S. R. (2013). Bilingual two-way immersion benefits academic achievement. Bilingual Research Journal, 36, 167-186. [pdf]

Park, Soyoung (2014). Bilingualism and Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Issues, Research, and Implications. NYS TESOL JOURNAL Vol. 1, No. . [pdf] 

 

What about you? Do you have any concerns about raising bilingual children? Or how about any myths to debunk? Share your ideas in the comments below!

About the Author

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Keli Garcia Allen is a certified Spanish teacher and currently works as a Preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom. She is the Head of Content for Learn Safari and is currently working on English Safari,  a game for children 4-10 years old who speak Spanish and want to learn English. You can follow her and the rest of the team on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

1 Tip That Changed The Way I Teach A Second Language

When Learn Safari first started, the Team was comprised of just a few Team members scrambling around in the dark. Honestly though, we had NO CLUE what we were doing, but we knew we wanted to create something that would encourage kids to learn and use their Spanish. We knew we wanted to create a program that would be high-quality, fun for children, and helpful for children, families, and teachers. As a former high school Spanish teacher, bilingual parent, and now preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom, I brought a lot of my experience from the field, but I had no idea how to make it into a tangible “something.”

 

We had to educate ourselves and the best way to do so is to read. We read absolutely everything that had anything to do with learning languages, educational technology, making games, gamification, making apps, managing time, creating a virtual team, marketing, etc. Sometimes, I felt like I read so much, that it would just all jumble together. Over time, however, I realized I have learned a lot and really carried some of the information to heart.

 

There’s no better example, however, than some of the information I learned while reading some of Tim Ferriss’ books, blogs and articles. If you don't know who Tim Ferriss is, check out his best seller The 4 Hour Work Week. Mr. Ferriss has a lot of ideas (about all kinds of subjects!) and some I agree with, some I don't, some I have completely forgotten, but some I have really absorbed. One of these ideas in particular has really completely changed my teaching method at school, home, and on the app, and I am here to share it with you. It’s the idea that when you are teaching new concepts and vocabulary, you can use translation and you should say the word in the native language first and follow it up by using the target language.

 

Why does it work?

The idea of complete immersion, just jump in and “sink or swim” has long been popular in language education. The idea is that if you are forced to communicate in a language, you will have no choice but to learn. The reality is that, unless we have the ability to go to a country where ONLY the target language is spoken, we won’t have that kind of motivation. And even then, we usually find ways around and end up using our native language a lot to help us learn.

 

Complete language immersion is an ideal, but as bilingual education becomes more common in the U.S. (who still needs to catch up with much of the rest of the world), classroom teachers and parents are realizing that using what a child already knows and scaffolding that into new knowledge is a very effective way of helping kids learn the target language.

 

As a parent, do you have a hard time getting your child to understand and use the target language? It is probably because kids will just go with what is most comfortable and the majority language always is. We often have this idea that we need to pick one method of second language acquisition, OPOL, MLAH etc. but, what if that’s not effective? What if your child isn’t getting the appropriate amount of language exposure to learn the target language or if they have fallen behind in the target language and simply do not understand what you are trying to say to them? Then, using this concept of making a statement in the target language and following it up by translating in the target language will be very beneficial to your child.

 

Why does it work? Because when kids (or even adults) hear something they do not understand, they simply tune it out. However, if you speak the native language first you already have that child’s attention, they already have an image and an understanding in their mind, and then you pair it up with this new piece of information, the way to say it in the target language. It is a way to create a connection and you then go on to strengthen it by using the phrase several times.

 

You do not have to use this technique with everything you say, only with what your child doesn’t understand, and then you will use it less and less as your child understands more and more.  

 

Ways in which I have implemented the technique

As I mentioned earlier, I teach preschool. Specifically, I teach VPK (voluntary pre-kindergarten) and 85 to 90% of my students are English Language Learners with their native language being Spanish. It's my job to teach them English and prepare them with the literacy, social and communication skills that they will need in kindergarten and beyond. However, I know the importance of keeping and learning in their heritage language and I work within the classroom and with the parents to make sure that Spanish is still and important part of their lives and education. For this reason, I run a bilingual classroom. 

Having a bilingual classroom is a constant experiment in language and organization. All of my signage is in English and Spanish, we have books in both languages, we do music in both languages, circle time, smalls groups and centers are conducted in both languages and I am constantly switching between languages, depending on the needs of the children with whom I am interacting. 

This past year, however, I decided to put this strategy of majority language first, target language second into practice in a very intentional and consistent way. This was especially the case with my students who had zero English knowledge at the beginning of the year. I would pre-read stories with them in Spanish, before reading the story in English to the whole group. Whenever I introduced new vocabulary I would say it in Spanish first and then in English and even our regular conversations would double in time, because I would say it in Spanish and then in English. The language explosion that occurred this year was astounding! I was amazed at how much these brilliant little minds learned in 1 year! And for the first time I am confident that 100% of my students, even those who started the school year with zero English knowledge, are absolutely ready for kindergarten!

At home, I have reversed the strategy. Although we use Spanish and English at home, I have to admit that English is the stronger language for my girls. Their environment is mostly in English and as their main source of Spanish, I have to be extremely intentional and consistent with Spanish. So, whenever I introduce things the girls are unfamiliar with, I first say it in English and then I say it in Spanish. I have the girls repeat after me in Spanish and soon, these new words become part of their vocabulary! Like I have said before, it's not necessary all the time, but if we are ever falling behind, or if we are speaking of completely new things, the strategy is absolute gold. 

I've said it before, and I will say it again (and again and again): raising and educating multilingual children is hard work! It takes consistency, intentionality, creativity, and a lot of trial and error to make it work. It won't always look pretty, but the results and the journey itself are worth all of the effort! With this tip, I have found an effective tool for my teaching arsenal and I hope you will find it effective too. 

How about you? Do you have any tips or tricks to share for language learning? We would love to hear from you! Share in the comments below. 

 

Keli Garcia-Allen is a certified Spanish teacher and currently works as a preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom. She is the Head of Content for Learn Safari and is currently working on Spanish Safari, a Spanish Learning game for children 5-9 years old. You can follow her and the rest of the team on FacebookInstagram, and

 

5 Reasons Why Being Bicultural is Just as Important as Being Bilingual

Culture and heritage consist of the passing of traditions and mores from one generation to another. As parents, we often want to share with our children the best of our own lives and our traditions are a huge part of that. When raising children in a country different from the one in which you grew up, the challenge is that there are several competing cultures vying for their attention. But just like language, culture can shape the development of our children and families.

In this post, we want to share the importance of embracing your culture while living abroad, and a few tips on how to pass your heritage on to your children while embracing the majority culture in which you live and we’re going to give you a few reasons why raising bicultural kids is just as important as raising them to be bilingual.

It's important, because tequeños and cheese sticks are not the same!

This may seem silly, but just follow me for a bit.  Ask any Venezuelan about tequeños and it will take them down memory lane and smile, thinking about all the good times they shared with loved ones.  Tequeños are delicious pieces of white cheese, wrapped in dough and deep fried.  However, they are not mozzarella sticks!!! Mozzarella sticks are delicious and they are a great treat whenever we go to a restaurant in the U.S.! However, as a bicultural family,  do we really want to miss out on one or the other? Tequeños are just a small example of this dichotomy. When we raise our children in a country different than our own we tend to cook meals we grew up with, as we probably learned how to make them at home with our parents and grandparents. Enjoying the smells and flavors of our childhood is a wonderful way to pass on our heritage, but exploring and enjoying the cuisine and tradition of the majority culture (along with other cultures!) but do we want our kids to miss out on the wonderful things this new country has to offer?  Maybe it’s time to make new traditions as a family and embrace the best of both worlds.

It's Important, Because Children Need to Connect with Family and Friends on Both Sides of the Cultural Divide  

One of the issues I most often read about in parent boards about multilingualism, is the difficulty that comes about when children can't connect with family members due to language and cultural barriers. If children can't communicate with family members and don't feel a connection to their culture, it can create uncomfortable situations and missed opportunities. On the other hand, if you completely ignore the traditions of the majority culture, you and your family might be missing out on wonderful new experiences. Moreover, not embracing the majority culture might even create a barrier between you and your children as they grow up, so it's important to make new traditions as a family and embrace the best of both worlds.

It's important, because bicultural children will be able to empathize with the world better

Children who have been exposed to different cultures can draw from them and experience the world through what they know from them.  Being able to speak a different language than the majority in the place they’re growing up in enhances those abilities. In the words of Charlemagne “To have another language is to possess a second soul.” According to several studies to speak another language and being exposed to another culture helps the children experience the world through a different mindset, like getting two different sets of lenses to see the world through, making it easier for them to empathize with others.

It's important, because bicultural children will be more interested in both languages

Cultural connections are a great way to propel language learning.  Children may not be eager to use a heritage language and raising bilingual children is a lot of work! Studies suggest that the earlier children are exposed to another language, the better their ability to become native speakers. However, keeping up with their language development takes hard work, dedication, and a lot of creativity!  As a parent and language teacher, I know that one of the best ways of getting a child hooked on a language is to explore its cultural background, so food, music, and dance are just a few ways to get them interested!

It's important, because it makes our children more creative and out of the box thinkers Living in two different cultures often translates to being able to adapt to different social situations in very creative ways.  This creativity is not restricted to social situations; it spreads to every single aspect of their lives, making them out of the box thinkers. And this matters because when ideas come together, and even when they clash, we are more likely to see and solve problems. After all, isn’t that what we want for them?

Here are a few activities to complete when raising bicultural children

  • Cook with your kids. It does not only help them develop healthy eating habits, but it’s a bonding experience based in love and culture with the flavors and smells from your own childhood.
  • Make sure their screen time (tv, video games) is in the target language.  At Learn Safari we specialize in creating interactive language apps to help children learn and practice languages.  If your target language is Spanish, you can try our first app, Spanish Safari!  (You can download Spanish Safari for iOS here.)
  • Have your child join a Play Group with other children from the minority culture. This is a wonderful way to connect with other parents with whom you can share experiences and information.
  • Read cultural books. Reading is the best way to practice language and reading books that connect your children to your heritage culture can be a great bonding experience.
  • Go to restaurants that make your favorite meals to embrace your cuisine and customs, or the intended culture.
  • Attend festivals and such events where your culture is celebrated.
  • Listen and dance to the music of your culture.

What is your experience in raising bicultural children? Do you have any tips to share? Feel free to do so in the comments below! Together we can support each other in raising global citizens that honor their heritage and embrace their new culture by creating new traditions of their own.

About the authors:

Becky Garcia-Muir is a Southern belle from way South, a Bilingual teacher and mom, and community manager for Learn Safari a Spanish Learning game for children 5-9 years old. You can follow her and the rest of the team on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter

Keli Garcia-Allen is a certified Spanish teacher and currently works as a Preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom. She is the Head of Content for Learn Safari and is currently working on Spanish Safari, a Spanish Learning game for children 5-9 years old. You can follow her and the rest of the team on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

 

7 Tips for Finding the Best Children's Apps

Have you ever downloaded apps just to find out that they’re not what you or your child expected?  There are so many apps out there and it’s hard to separate the good ones from the, well, let’s just say sub-par ones. As a parent and an educator, I worry that the content my kids are being exposed to is not beneficial. After all, it’s important that kids learn to use technology, but we want to make sure that they get the most out of their screen time! In this post, I’m going to share few tips on what to look for when downloading an educational app for kids.

Read the Description

This one is pretty obvious, but it does deserve a mention. Read the description of the app! The description should give you a good idea of what the app does, what age group its designed for, whether there are in app purchases, etc. This is all great info, but you also want to pay attention to the quality of the description. If the description is well thought out and nicely written, then you can have increased expectations that the app itself was well thought out. If it’s a shoddy description, then what can you really expect from the app? If the developers couldn’t bother with something so small, how many short cuts did they take on the app?

Read the Reviews

Star ratings are a good guide, but they’re not as useful as a written review. These are very helpful as you can read the experience of other parents with their children using the app, and you can decide whether the app is for you or not.   Remember, reviews will not be limited to just the app store! With a simple search, you can often find reviews and descriptions of the app on other sites and even on Youtube, especially if the app has any kind of track record. And remember, if you really liked the app after using it, please take the time to write your experience to help other parents.

Free Trial

After you’ve done the research, the only real way to know if the app is for you and your family or students is to try it out! There are some good quality free apps out there, but the reality is that they are few and far between. A great app requires some investment and if you are looking to invest into your child’s education and entertainment, you want to make sure you do so wisely. Many good apps will have a free trial and it’s a great way to test them out without losing out. Make sure that you take advantage of the free trial and spend time with your child playing and gauging their reaction to it before making a commitment.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself when deciding whether to purchase an App

Is it Safe?

As a mom, I would say this is the most important.  We want our kids to be safe, always.  When children go online they can become vulnerable to cyberbullies, unsavory characters, and inappropriate information. We have to be alert at every age, always making sure we explain appropriate internet use and behavior and discuss what they can and cannot share online.  When it comes to young users, the best practice is to look for apps that don’t let children interact with other online players.  A well designed children’s app will provide an engaging environment without having to interact with strangers. It’s also important to make sure you play the game and talk to your child about the game often to make sure that they are being exposed to safe information. How many times have you not come across things that are meant for children, but just don’t conform to your standards of appropriateness? And unfortunately, there’s also plenty of things online that are masked as child-friendly, but simply aren’t! Thankfully, the App Store and the Google Play Store have high standards when it comes to the appropriateness of content, but this is something to be aware of across the board!  It’s important that, no matter your child’s age, you are always aware of what they’re doing online and always check on the videos and games they like to play, even if it makes you super “uncool.”

Is it Fun?

Obviously, the attraction of kids to anything depends on the level of fun!  But remember, what might be fun for you might not be fun for a 5 year-old, and vice-versa.  There have been plenty of times where I have picked something out for a child to play with just to find that they are not interested in the least! So, it’s important to gauge whether this is something that your child will pick up for 5 minutes or whether it will provide them with hours of fun (over the course of time obviously!) Although the definition of fun will be different for different children, gauging whether a game is age appropriate can be helpful. A game meant for a 2 year old will be extremely boring to a 6 or 7 year old, and a game meant for 10 year olds might be too difficult and therefore boring to a 5 year old.

What is Your Child Gaining From the App?

Remember that an app can be both fun and educational! We believe that to get the most out of technology, kids should be learning through their play. They can practice literacy skills, multiple languages, music, science, math, art…the possibilities are endless! It’s even better if the app can provide you with feedback and progress when it comes to what your child is learning.

Is it Interactive?

Nothing can replace human interaction, not even super awesome games, but awesome games are interactive. Kids are often on the receiving end of information, but we need to engage their brains as much as possible! Clicking, dragging, making choices, repeating, solving puzzles, etc. help keep a child active and engaged with an activity. To make the process even more interactive, take the time to play with your child, ask questions, etc. (For tips on how to make the most out of your child's screen time, check out this post). Some apps will even let you create multiple profiles, keep score, and even provide feedback to parents on how the child is doing!

These are just a few things to think about before downloading an app. As an avid app downloader I can safely say these steps have saved me memory space, battery life, a few bucks and a few tears (I won't tell if the tears were mine or my little one's!).  As a mom and part of the Learn Safari team I can tell you that this is part of the criteria for developing Spanish Safari, our first project now available on the App Store

If you have any questions or tips of your own please write to me at Rebecca@learnsafari.com or in the comments below, I’d love to read them.

About the Author: Becky Garcia-Muir is a Southern belle from way South, a Bilingual teacher and mom, and community manager for Learn Safari a Spanish Learning game for children 6-8 years old. You can follow her and the rest of the team on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

5 Reasons to Set Up a Language Learning Corner for your Bilingual Child

In my former life, I was a preschool teacher and teacher trainer for a publishing company.  That was quite a few years ago before I married, began having children, and started my work as Community Manager for Learn Safari. As it turns out, however, you can take a girl out of teaching, but you can never take the teacher out of the girl! I never stopped loving being a teacher, and now that I’m a mom raising a bilingual child, I see myself thinking back to those days and using some of those same skills in my home.  As it turns out, my classroom was also something that I could not completely give up! I ended up creating a Language-Learning Corner for my child based on the following 5 reasons, and after hearing me out, you might be inspired to do the same! I Wanted to Create a Space Where Bilingualism is Encouraged

Raising a bilingual child is very important to me. I was raised bilingually and I must say I will be forever thankful to my parents for sticking to it, even when it was hard and I was set on not speaking English!  (“no habla Inglés mami!”) I was able to advance in my career, had access to more information, and was able to communicate with relatives and make new friends because I was able to speak English. These are all things I want my little girl to have.

Of course, as parents raising bilingual children, we all know that it's a lot of work! Sometimes it feels like it's much easier said than done and there are many ways to go about it and many philosophies to guide parents. The one thing I knew, however, is that I needed a space where we would be encouraged and inspired to use our second language.

Last Summer we were visiting relatives in Florida and we made a Target run. Low and behold, I found that much talked about  dollar spot!  Two Frappuccinos later, we had a cartful of teaching aids and all kinds of cool stuff to stock a mini classroom, and that’s how I got my learning corner started.

I Wanted to Give Her a Work Space She Could Call Her Own

A sense of independence, responsibility and ownership helps children build self-confidence, and the sooner we started, the better.  My little girl likes things that are “hers” and setting this space works for both of us, as she can color, draw, sing and read in one spot.  She can store and find everything she needs! The space is her own, which also helps to motivate her to clean up with very little help (yes, that one’s for me)

I Wanted to Ease Her Into The Habit of Studying Every Day

Living in Venezuela means that school is mandatory from a very early age and tons of homework is expected every day.  We’re talking 4 year-olds getting homework every day! So, to stay ahead of the curve, I decided that it was in our best interest to start this habit early. I figured that if we started in a fun, enjoyable way, we could make this a good habit and set her on the path of lifelong learning.  I know this all sounds way too serious, but if you’ve had to stay late with a cranky child finishing a last minute assignment, you know this makes sense.

A Space to Keep Our Daily Routine in Check

We could talk about the importance of a daily routine for hours, but most of us will probably agree that even if it’s hard, in the long run, a routine is better for both child and parent.  Small children rely on this to feel safe and in control.  Parents rely on routine for the same reasons.

Our routine is loosely as follows:  After school we talk about our day, change clothes, eat lunch and take a nap. After that we have our little “English Immersion Program” where we set the date on the calendar and sing, talk about what we’re going to do, read a book, do seat work which includes coloring, sorting and/or matching. It takes us about 45 minutes, depending on her mood and stamina. Afterwards, she enjoys her screen time and free play.

A Space to Spend Time Together and Check on Her Daily Progress

This is my favorite reason! My baby girl is smart, funny and willful; a powerful combination that drives me both to laughter and tears (both of frustration and pride).  To see how she grows and how her mind works is a privilege and I’m lucky to spend so much time with her. This corner of our house is a special place where we get to learn, grow, and bond together! And it's even a place where she can invite other special people to participate with her in the learning and fun.

What Should You Put in the Language Learning Corner?

The possibilities are endless! You want it to be a print-rich environment, but you also want it to be interesting and adapted to their needs and age. But here are some basic suggestions to get you started:

  • Books
  • Signs, posters, etc. in target language
  • labels in target language
  • Paper
  • Writing Utensils
  • Art Supplies: paper, crayons, markers, scissors, glue sticks, paint (if you dare!)
  • A Maker kit: loose pieces, nuts, bolts, pliers, hammer, nails
  • A world map, atlas, or globe
  • Images of the places and cultures that speak the target language
  • Puzzles
  • Games and manipulatives
  • Calendar and weather info (especially for younger kids)

This learning corner is a work in progress, but so far my Twinkle Toes is enjoying her work time. Sometimes we spend a good amount of time in our learning space, sometimes it’s just a few minutes, but the important thing is that she’s using the target language and starting to look forward to it.  But remember, do not limit the second language exposure to just a corner of your house, you can take a bilingual break anytime, anywhere!

I’d love to read your comments! Do you have a language corner?  How do you keep the target language at home? What’s your child’s favorite activity? Please share your experience with our community below.

For more ideas on how to create a Language Corner, and what it should include please read Maria's article "A language corner for teaching a foreign language in the home" at Trilingual Mama.  I hope all of these ideas inspire you, and help you build a language corner perfect for your family.

Becky Garcia-Muir is a Southern belle from way South, a Bilingual teacher and mom, and community manager for Learn Safari a Spanish Learning game for children 4-10 years old. You can follow her and the rest of the team on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

6 Ways to Establish a Bedtime Routine For Your Bilingual Child

As promised in my post 6 Ways in which a Bedtime Routine Can Boost Your Bilingual Child I’m here to share some ideas on how to establish a bedtime routine. If you do not have a routine, then you really are missing out on a great opportunity to teach not only discipline and regain your sanity at night, but you're missing out on a great opportunity to expose your child(ren) to the target language.

If you are anything like me, you often feel like rushing through the night and getting the kiddos to sleep so you can finally have some peace and a much needed break! I would try to use the time to clean up their substantial mess, get some of my work done, and even get some couch potato T.V. time. But honestly, the time of getting the kids to bed would stress me out, my kids never wanted to go to bed and were super cranky, and by the time I was done I was extremely tired and rarely followed through with my plans.

Working with children, I know the importance of routines. I know that they do better when they know what to expect and what is expected of them, so why wasn’t I applying this to my own children when we were trying to wrap up the day? Once I decided to implement our routine at night, I found time to spend time learning and to actually enjoy my children! So, here is the routine that works for us and it’s my hope that you can get some ideas from it and create a routine that works for you.

Photo by: Keli Garcia Allen
Photo by: Keli Garcia Allen
  1. Dinner Time

I wrote a post for Cooking with Languages a while back on what children can learn from cooking. It was meaningful for me to write, because cooking with our kids provides such a special opportunity to bond and extend the time learning and practicing the target language. This is not an activity that is merely for older kids, but even the tiniest of tots can join in! My two and three year olds love to pour, crack (eggs), stir, and taste right along with me. Sometimes everything has been cooking on the crock pot all day, and they just get to stir a few times in order to “help” and sometimes we grabbed take out and they just need to set the table. Whatever we do, they always get to help and as they grow, their duties will grow with their abilities.

During this time I use parallel and self-talk in our target language (Spanish) to describe everything we are doing as we cook. I also ask them a lot of open-ended questions about the process (What are you doing? Why do you have to do that?) and watch their little brains workout how to answer me. Obviously, the conversations will evolve as their language skills evolve and I foresee a time when our conversations will go well beyond what we are cooking.

  1. Clean-up time

Oh dreaded clean-up! This is where I spend the majority of my time at home. With two professional mess-makers, it’s no wonder. It’s important to teach our kids from an early age to clean up and contribute to the house, but it’s never too late to start. Sometimes it really is like pulling teeth for me and it takes no small amount of patience, deep breathing, and chocolate (which I hide and eat in my bedroom closet!!) to get through this part of our routine. For now, it is all about me teaching them and indicating exactly what to do every step of the way, but I know that as they grow up, they will be able to do a lot more with a lot less prodding (as long as I keep up the routine!). For now, it’s another great opportunity for us to make practical use of our target language.

  1. Preparations for the next day

At this point of our evening, I get the girls to help prepare themselves for tomorrow. We pull out pajamas and clothing for the next day. My threenager has developed her own style and takes a long time to put together her outrageous combinations for the following day (Boots with shorts are a current Florida winter favorite of hers) and it cuts down on morning rush (yeah, so I may have it “together” at night, but our mornings are RIDICULOUS! Can’t have it all right?).

This is also a time when we prepare book bags and lunch boxes for the next day. We have a lot of fun and silly conversations in the target language during this portion of our night, and they are usually revolved around the crazy outfits my baby wants to wear.

  1. Bath Time

So, while my kids are little, bath time has to be supervised. Honestly, I wish I could just throw them in and walk away or rush them through it. But they love their baths so much and it’s really a great time for them to play while I sit with a book or (GAASSSPPP!) my phone. If you’re an over-achiever, go ahead and use this time to play and talk with your kids. It’s definitely what I recommend. So, do as I say, not as I do!!

  1. Reading

So, my excuse for taking it easy during bath time is that the next part of our routine is CRUCIAL! Seriously, whether you are a bilingual parent or not, reading every single day with your child is the single most important thing you can do for their education. Whether 0 or 17, reading aloud every single day should be the goal. It doesn’t matter if you read to them or they read to you, reading every day can make a bigger difference than anything else you do for them.  Reading with your child every day has a greater impact on achievement than anything else you may do, including the school they go to, the extracurricular activities they participate in, how much money you make, etc. And as a bilingual parent, this is the best opportunity for my girls to receive rich, deep, and crucial input in the target language.

  1. Reflecting on the day.

After reading and talking about what we read, we spend some time talking about the day. I ask them a lot of questions and try to remind them of everything that was done. I ask them what their favorite part of the day was, what they didn’t like, what made them laugh, what made them sad, etc. I love to ask them silly questions to make them laugh and more serious questions to make them think. If you’re having a hard time coming up with questions, check out this article!

I also talk to them about the next day and what they think they are going to do. I ask about what they would like to do and talk to them about what they must do. We do all of this in our target language and if they do not know how to say something, I let them say it in English and then I model how to say it in Spanish. It’s a very sweet time spent with them and it’s my absolute favorite part of the day.

Taking the time to have a purposeful and meaningful time with your kids in the evening may seem like a daunting task, but remember, it does not have to take hours of your time. While it may at first be difficult to get your children to help with the clean up and preparing for the following day (especially if they are younger), but with a routine, it will end up being a lot of help and saving you time. If you go about the routine with the purpose of spending time and educating your children, it will also be less stressful! Taking the time to relax, read, and reflect upon the day with your child will also help you unwind and decompress while cuddling and hugging your babies will sure boost up those endorphins! And hey, there’s nothing wrong with getting the process started early. I’ve been known to enforce a 7pm bedtime routine and have lived to tell the tale!

We want to hear from you! Do you have a bedtime routine that you practice with your kids? What does it look like? What benefits have you seen from it? Let us know in the comments below.

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About the AuthorKeli Garcia Allen is a certified Spanish teacher and currently works as a Preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom. She is the Head of Content for Learn Safari and is currently working on Spanish Safari,  a Spanish Learning game for children 4-10 years old. You can follow her and the rest of the team on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.